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The Fallout board game is going to be SPECIAL

Bethesda’s post-apocalyptic franchise shines on the table

Left to right, the Ghoul, the Super Mutant, the Brotherhood of Steel Outcast and the Vault Dweller
Four of the playable characters in Fallout, from Fantasy Flight Games.
Charlie Hall/Polygon
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

I should have stopped doubting Fantasy Flight Games years ago. That team of experienced game designers, known for shepherding high-profile names to the tabletop, has another hit on their hands with Fallout, and you can play it later this year.

Fallout is based on Bethesda’s version of the classic role-playing franchise and makes liberal use of its iconic art throughout. It’s a competitive exploration game where players take on the role of one of one of five archetypes from the Fallout universe, including the Ghoul, the Vault Dweller, the Wastelander, the Super Mutant and the Brotherhood Outcast.

Where the game gets interesting is with its Power system.

Miniatures representing a Brotherhood of Steel Outcast and a Vault Dweller are modeled in beige plastic.
Players move across the map uncovering new locations as they go. Each tile has a spawn location for Critters, Monsters and other enemies that respawn after they’re killed.
Charlie Hall/Polygon

There are always two competing factions in every pre-generated scenario. In the demo shown at this year’s Gen Con, those two sides were the Institute and the Railroad. To win, players must gather three Influence, either by meeting scenario objectives or meeting the conditions on hidden cards in their hand. But Power keeps fluctuating throughout the game based on player actions, and once it passes a certain threshold the game is over whether there’s a single winner or not.

In the demo, players had to first uncover evidence of Synths in the area around post-apocalyptic Boston. The Institute could increase their Power by killing any humanoid on the map, while the Railroad had to reach Diamond City and ask around for information. The first to accomplish that goal earned an Influence card and moved the Power marker in their team’s favor.

The game board is composed of hexagonal tiles. In each scenario, players begin on an open tile and must venture into the Wasteland to discover new areas and uncover their objectives. Unlike other Fantasy Flight titles, Fallout is a heavily story-driven game. A massive stack of numbered cards more than eight inches tall will drive the action forward. Keeping them straight will be important for moving the game along in a timely fashion at the table.

When players come across enemies, they attack using a set of custom dice modeled on Fallout’s VATS combat system. Each die has a series of hit locations on each side and enemies can only be wounded by hitting certain locations. Character damage and radiation exposure are handled on a sideboard. Should the two values meet, the player dies. Dead characters keep their stats and return to the beginning tile. In that way, players are rewarded for bold choices with increased abilities and penalized by losing items.

When players reach named locations they can perform an investigate action. When they do, they roll against their SPECIAL stats to see if they succeed or fail at the challenge. In classic Bethesda fashion, leveling is based on the use of skills. The more you flex a certain muscle the stronger it becomes.

Fallout successfully blends light role-playing mechanics with rich, narrative exploration. But where it runs the risk of failing as a commercial product is in the number of pieces players have to keep track of. There’s the huge stack of narrative cards to sort through, for one. During our demo a Fantasy Flight employee struggled to get the cards in the right order and find the ones he was looking for. But there are also multiple, shorter stacks of cards to keep track of and several different kinds of cardboard tokens and chits.

A mini-card featuring Nick Valentine, a companion character from Fallout 4.
You can purchase items and pick up companions around the Wasteland. If you happen to be in the same area you can even trade items and bottle caps with other players.
Charlie Hall/Polygon

While the tabletop industry has gotten much better at pack-ins that make setting up games faster and less complicated, Fantasy Flight has seemingly lagged behind. Their products often come with little more than a few ziplock bags and an empty box. Fallout is an opportunity for the Minnesota-based company to level-up its customer experience, but with a $59.99 price point and a well-known IP I doubt they have the overhead to do it and still turn a healthy profit.

Fallout is expected to ship in time for the holidays. We’ll have a full review later this year.

Polygon was on the floor at the 50th annual Gen Con tabletop gaming convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. You can find all our stories here as they go live throughout this week.

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